Mumbai, Nov 5: Tigress Avni, the elusive "maneater" of Pandharkawda lost over a year's battle of survival to the bullet on Friday mired in controversy over violation of protocols.
The tigress, survived by her two 10 months old cubs, was believed to be responsible for the deaths of 13 people in the past two years. She was shot dead by sharp-shooter Asgar Ali in the Borati forest in Maharashtra's Yavatmal district as part of an operation.
The tragedy does not end with Avni's death. The next step is the capture of her cubs, who are a little over a year old. The cubs, a male and a female, seem to be searching for their mother in the same area.
Are they going to be killed point blank like their mother was? Or, are they going to be rehabilitated, with proper state presence? This is the most pressing question of all.
"We cannot say the mission is complete because we have to take care of T1's cubs," said Virendra Tiwari, chief conservator of forest (Mantralaya), state forest department.
"They cannot be left in the wild. But they are not to be shot, only tranquillised and this needs to be done at the earliest to ensure their good health."
Officials will try to tranquillise the cubs and keep them in captivity, he said.
Dr Jerryl A Banait, who had approached the Supreme Court and the Bombay high court in this matter, said, "The frightened cubs are waiting for their mother to return. They are young, fragile and are currently starving. If tranquillised, they will not be able to withstand the sedative effect and succumb to it."
"The forest department's intention was never to tranquillise her. We will take the government head on and expose the real reason why Avni was killed," said Anand Siva, activist.
If the cubs are rescued by the forest department, they will have a miserable life because they will be kept in captivity, Banait said. "Whatever be the case, what we do know is the cubs have been orphaned now."
The Maharashtra forest department's order, issued by chief conservator of forest A.K. Mishra and subsequently upheld by the Supreme Court, the two cubs were to be tranquilised and shifted to a rescue centre in the eventuality of Avni's death.
According to the World Wildlife Fund, tiger cubs remain with their mothers for at least two-three years, before which they cannot fend for themselves. The cubs cannot hunt until they are 18 months old, and it is only after two to three years that they begin to move away to find their own territory.